Beauty queen Michelle Dee, who floored judges on Saturday by saying the best thing the Philippines can offer the world is its people, their warmth and hospitality, is now set to represent her country at the global Miss Universe pageant.
Dee, 28, an actress and model, represented the City of Makati and beat 37 others to be crowned Miss Universe Philippines 2023 on Saturday.
At the competition's final round at SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay, the top-five candidates were given the same question. In reference to the Philippines’ new tourism slogan “we give the world our best”, Dee was what was the best the country could offer the world, to which she answered its greatest asset were the people.
“The Philippines is home to very beautiful natural resources, from the beaches to the mountains, but I believe that the best natural resources that the Philippines has is us Filipinos," she said. "We are the true heart and soul of the Philippines with the way we are hospitable, with the warm smiles ... and we are the reason why the world keeps coming back for more."
The Philippines is considered a powerhouse in pageant circles, with global beauty contests still obsessively followed across the country.
Pageantry is in her blood
Dee's mother, actress and producer Melanie Marquez, is a former beauty queen, having won the Miss International crown in 1979. As a pageant promoter, Marquez has also trained many beauty queens who've gone to represent on the Philippines on the international stage.
Dee's cousin, actress and model Winwyn Marquez, is also a beauty queen, and was crowned Miss Reina Hispoamericana — which celebrates Hispanic beauties — in 2017.
Dee has also represented the Philippines at a global pageant, having won Miss World Philippines in 2019. She finished in the top 12 at the Miss World competition, held in London, where Jamaica's Toni-Ann Singh was crowned winner that year.
"People ask me why I do this time and time again," Dee said in the run-up to Miss Universe Philippines. "My answer is simple: purpose and passion. And for each year that I've joined I come with a burning passion to raise awareness for the advocacies I champion and with a purpose, to use myself and my voice for the greater good of our fellow kababayans.
"Every time I step on a stage, I am aware that I am not only doing this for myself, but I’m doing this for every Filipino who has ever had a dream they're fighting to achieve. This is why every time, I give my all because I know that what I am doing is so much bigger than myself and to be given the chance to shed light on these advocacies and beliefs is truly the prize in this whole journey."
A psychology graduate, Dee is only the second Filipina to win both the Miss World Philippines and Miss Universe Philippines crowns, after Catriona Gray.
Gray was a Miss World Philippines winner in 2016 before she won Binibining Pilipinas in 2018 and earned the chance to represent her country at the Miss Universe pageant. She was crowned Miss Universe 2018 a few months later, becoming the fourth Filipina to win the crown.
Gray congratulated Dee on her win on Saturday, saying: "Excited to witness how you'll carry our sash again!".
Dee will hope to repeat Gray's success at the Miss Universe 2023 pageant, to be held in El Salvador, the date for which has yet to be announced.
"It's not done until it's won," she posted on Instagram soon after her win. "That has been my mindset not just for this year but for all the times I joined Miss Universe Philippines. No matter how it looks, it never got easier to prepare for each time I would compete.
"Each year was full of hard work, sacrifices and risks that I hope pay off at the end. Winning this year validates not just to me but to every Filipino that with hard work, perseverance and passion, you can achieve anything."